Comparative Literature Major and Minor

Students interested in examining literature through an international perspective and with an eye to its socio-cultural functions will find a vibrant academic home in the Haverford-Bryn Mawr Comparative Literature department. Drawing on faculty and resources from both colleges, we offer a rigorous major that embodies the highly interdisciplinary nature of the field and fuels the diverse interests of our students.

Curriculum & Courses

Students analyze literary texts from two distinct national cultures, and consider them comparatively. Our curriculum develops in each of our majors the tools they need to do this: advanced language skills in at least one language other than English; an understanding of the distinctive character of the literature of particular national cultures; and a familiarity with interpretive methods derived from a range of disciplines. Students do advanced in two languages (one of which can be English) with sufficient mastery to engage with the literature and culture in the original.

Language options include Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Latin, ancient Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew. Our program also encompasses courses based in anthropology, philosophy, religion, history, and classical studies; African, Latin American, East Asian and gender and sexuality studies; and music, visual arts, and history of art.

  • Major

    We require comparative literature students to have a reading knowledge of at least one language other than English, adequate to the advanced study of literature in that language. Some comparative literature courses may require reading knowledge in the language as a prerequisite for admission.

    Students interested in pursuing a comparative literature major should discuss their preparation and program of courses with the comparative literature chair early in their first or second year at the College.

    We recommend (but do not require) that:

    • majors study abroad during one or two semesters of the junior year.
    • students with a possible interest in graduate school begin a second foreign language before they graduate.

    Major Requirements

    • COML H200 or COML B200 (Introduction to Comparative Literature), normally taken by the spring of the sophomore year.
    • Six advanced literature courses in the original languages (normally at the 200 level or above), balanced between two literature departments (of which English may be one): at least two (one in each literature) must be at the 300 level or above, or its equivalent, as approved in advance by the advisor.
    • One course in critical theory, approved by advisor.
    • COML H398 or COML B398 (Theories and Methods in Comparative Literature).
    • COML H399 or COML B399 (Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature).
    • Two additional courses identified as Comparative Literature (COML); these will be courses that move between two languages/literary traditions and/or two cultures.

    Senior Project

    Each senior major in comparative literature defines their thesis topic in consultation with the faculty members who teach the capstone seminars, COML 398 and COML 399. In the fall semester, as they near completion of COML 398, students produce a viable prospectus in the form of an essay with bibliography. During the spring semester, students enrolled in the Senior Seminar (COMLL 399) complete a senior thesis of 35-40 pages, under the joint guidance of one of the instructors in COML 399 and a faculty member with expertise in the topic of the thesis.

    The thesis should build on languages, literary and cultural interests, and competencies cultivated in coursework at Bryn Mawr and Haverford or abroad, should be broadly comparative in nature, and should normally deal with works in both of the student’s major languages.  Possible models include: a study of a critical issue as exemplified in authors or works from two different literary or linguistic traditions; an exploration of transnational issues in different media; a critical examination of a problem in literary or cultural theory or literary history; a critical examination of different translations of a literary work.

    At the end of the spring semester, during the senior exams period, all seniors are required to participate in senior oral exams before a panel of three faculty examiners—the two thesis co-advisors plus a member of the Comparative Literature Steering Committee or other relevant faculty member. Students respond to questions about the senior thesis during the first half of the exam (approximately 20 minutes); during the second half (another 25 minutes or so) they answer questions about a list of texts and topics they have submitted in advance. (These texts, which may include films and works of art, are chosen by each student from primary and secondary sources that they have studied in courses that count toward the major, with no more than two texts from a single class.)

    To get a sense of the kinds of projects our majors elect to pursue, please visit the Senior Thesis archive linked on our homepage.

    Senior Project Learning Goals

    In the process of writing the senior thesis and preparing for the oral exam, students should develop and demonstrate the capacity to:

    • Complete an independent scholarly project in the form of a senior thesis (35-40 pages) that has a logical and clear overall structure and that expresses complex ideas and argues these convincingly, with clarity and precision.
    • Familiarize themselves with their chosen texts in the original languages and offer interpretations grounded in close reading of these texts.
    • Evaluate and discuss the merits of a critical or methodological approach, identify relevant and generative theoretical frameworks, understand the tradition from which they derive, and competently incorporate them in the service of a critical question.
    • Critique and evaluate scholarship relevant to their own scholarly project.
    • Comment on or critique the research projects of fellow senior seminar participants.
    • Bring together and analyze critically, in light of certain central issues and themes, a selection of works of literature and criticism read over the past four years.
    • Make responsible use of both primary and secondary sources.
    • Make effective use of library resources, including subject-specific databases and indices online and in print

    Senior Project Assessment

    Faculty in the Comparative Literature Steering Committee (CLSC) evaluate the viability of the thesis prospectus, submitted in COML 398. Student performance evaluations in all the assessment categories mentioned below inform the final grades awarded in COML 399 as well as the awarding of honors in the major and of the departmental prize for the most accomplished senior essay. The examiners are drawn from faculty members teaching COML 399, members of the CLSC, and other colleagues in other relevant disciplines. Examiners (three per student) participate in the required senior oral examination and make the final evaluations of the second semester senior capstone experience. Separate grades are given for the senior essay, seminar performance, and oral exam; the final grade in COML 399 reflects the totality of the senior experience in all categories stated, with the most important element being the senior thesis.

    The thesis is evaluated on the following criteria:

    • Conceptualization of an original research question
    • Familiarity with and well-grounded interpretation of primary texts in the original languages.
    • Engagement with chosen theoretical framework or frameworks and with relevant secondary literature.
    • Successful revision in response to criticism.
    • Crafting of a clearly structured and clearly expressed argument.

    Requirements for Honors

    Students who, in the judgment of the Comparative Literature Steering Committee, have done distinguished work in their comparative literature courses and in the Senior Seminar will be considered for departmental honors.

  • Minor Requirements

    Requirements for the minor are COML 200 and COML 398, plus four additional courses—two each in the literature of two languages. At least one of these four courses must be at the 300 level. Students who minor in comparative literature are encouraged to choose their national literature courses from those with a comparative component.

    NOTE: Both majors and minors should work closely with the co-chairs of the program and with members of the steering committee in shaping their programs.

Research & Outreach

All majors produce a senior thesis based on original research and carried out in conjunction with our capstone seminars, Theories and Methods in Comparative Literature and Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature.

After Graduation

Majors complete our program prepared to pursue advanced study in Comparative Literature, or in departments of modern languages and literatures, or other related programs in literary and cultural studies. Recent graduates have entered graduate programs in Comparative Religion, Italian, Spanish, German, Religion, Film Studies, Literature, and Education. Many have gone on to pursue other paths, applying the sharp analytical skills and deep appreciation for cultural identity that they developed in the major to fields that include business, law, medicine, international relations, journalism, publishing, and translation.

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